The power of scent

By Caitlin Kelly

The first time I met my husband, the evening ended with an unusual flourish when he took off the red silk Buddhist prayer shawl he’d worn as a muffler and wrapped me in it. Its soft folds smelled of his cologne, 1881.


I love fragrance, especially those  created by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque, Creed, Joe Malone and Hermes.

I discovered this one, Escale a Portofino by Dior, in a duty-free shop. Created in 2008, it’s light and citrus-y, as are many of my favorites like this, “O’ de Lancome, launched in 1969. Delicious!

Have you ever sniffed “Diorissimo”, created in 1956? It’s like stepping into a huge field of lily of the valley and jasmine! As a teenager, I used to babysit for a woman who wore it — her home smelled so delicious as she prepared to go out for the evening.

Scent has such tremendous power.

My late stepmother, a ferocious creature, wore Caleche, a crisp number by Hermes. I’d like to wear it as well, but still consider it “hers.”

One of the craziest/sexiest beaux in my past wore Kouros. If I smell someone wearing it today, my knees still buckle a bit at the memories…

Twinings brand Earl Grey tea leaves
Twinings brand Earl Grey tea leaves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the worst days, a few smells can instantly soothe me — Earl Grey tea, fresh lilacs, pinon, the ocean, dried, sun-warmed pine needles, sweetgrass, Roger & Gallet’s carnation-scented soap, well-worn leather, Balkan Sobranie loose pipe tobacco, a clean dog or horse.

Catholics are accustomed to one of my favorite smells — that of the incense, swung vigorously from a censer, during Mass — which Episcopalians use much less frequently, often deriding its use as “smells and bells.”

Jose and I share an unlikely childhood memory of Maja soap — a favorite of his father, (a Baptist minister in New Mexico) and my mother, (a sophisticated bohemian traveling the world for years.) It was created in 1921, and is Spanish, still made by Myrurgia.

English: Display bottle by PENHALIGON'S, Londo...
English: Display bottle by PENHALIGON’S, London, UK. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wear a British scent created in 1902 for men, Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, which Burberry designer Christopher Bailey recently named as the smell he’s been wearing since childhood. The bottle is elegant, understated, with a stiff gray grosgrain bow and a little bulbous cap.

As someone working alone at home most of the time, I can (sadly) go for days without putting on nice clothes or make-up.

But I wear scent daily.

Other favorites include Tiempe Passate and Prada Iris.

What are some of your favorite smells?

What Decade — Or Century — Do You Smell Like?

A Horse With No Name

A woman ran down the subway stairs past me, leaving a trail of Anais, Anais, the first fragrance created by French fashion house Cacharel.

Boom. It’s 1982. and I’m living in Paris and that’s the scent my then-beau gave me, an intense floral.

If a man trails Kouros, my knees weaken. The guy who gave me the Anais, Anais wore it. Sigh.

The night I met Jose, aka the sweetie, he wore a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl as a muffler. It was scented with his fragrance, 1881, a wonderful cologne created in 1955, “recommended for evening wear.” At the end of our first date, he took off this warm, scented silk and wrapped me up in in. Double sigh.

Eleven years later, here we are.

The cologne I love for summer was invented in 1902, Blenheim Bouquet, by English house Penhaligon. And O de Lancome, from 1969, with all the zingy bright-green optimism I recall from those years.

I often wonder what the world smelled like in 1933 or 1868 or 1743. Or 1572, as I’m currently reading a biography of Queen Elizabeth I.

Gunpowder. Leather. Sweaty horse. (Horse dung.) Coal. Fresh-cut hay. Unwashed skin. Cold, dry stone. Wool. Woodsmoke. Ordure. Blood. Freshly-cut lumber. Mud. Peat. Tallow. Tar. The ocean.

When Jose took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico, his home town, I learned several new smells: hinoki (cedar), used by the amazing local spa, Ten Thousand Waves. Sagebrush. Pinon. Chile powder.

One of my favorite smells in the world is that of sun-dried pine needles, a scent I associate with my happiest times, up north in Ontario at summer camp.

What will 2020 smell like? Or 2086?

Sniff! My Favorite Smells

Grasse, France, home to many delicious smells! Image via Wikipedia

As spring sunshine slowly warms the earth, you can smell the new season. Where I live, in  a small town north of New York City, the pungent and specific odor of fresh wild onion — their thin, bright green sprigs poking up everywhere — is one I look forward to every year.

One of my most powerful scent memories, decades old now, was driving through the North Carolina night down a winding rural road when a huge, delicious whiff of wild jasmine suddenly filled the car. Yum!

Some of my favorite smells:

Good leather

Clean dog

Warm horse

Old wool

Jet fuel (I’m going somewhere!)


Balkanie Sobranie pipe tobacco, lit or unlit



Maja soap, a classic with the most elegant black tissue paper wrapping

Oilliet-Mignardise soap by Roger & Gallet, a spicy smell of carnations. Heaven in a box!

Tiempe Passate, a super-hard-to-find perfume made by New York perfumer Antonia Bellanca

Sun-dried pine needles

1881 cologne, the 1955 classic by Nino Cerruti, the one my sweetie wore the night we met 11 years ago


The ocean

Moist earth

A well-made gin martini

Earl Grey tea, freshly steeped (yes, it’s the bergamot)

Grasse, in the south of France, has been a center of the perfume industry for many years and has a museum of scent.

Here’s a link to a Mallorca museum with some rural smells of the past.

What are some of your favorite smells?